Wednesday, 6 January 2010

My Cooking Experiences - Part 2 - Chalets and SuperYachts

Val d'Isere - taken from Solaise
Part 1 can be found here

My next job requiring me to create rustic culinary delights was in the French Alpine resort of Val d'Isere, also known as Val d'Izzle* to Snoop Dog and other gangster rappers around the world. (*this is unsubstantiated conjecture).

I spent the winter of 07/08 working as a 'Chalet Bitch', or to go by the official tittle 'Chalet Host'. I was assigned the largest 'single host' chalet that had a quirky layout over 3 floors and included an underground passage to the games room, sauna and two of the bedrooms! Each week I would have 8 guests come to stay with me and it was my job to ensure they received their hot breakfasts, freshly baked cake for when they returned from a day on the slopes, a three course meal in the evening as well as cleaning all the rooms, providing them with info about events in the town, runs to do and runs to avoid and all the frivolous banter they could handle. All this for a whopping £70 per week with one day off, with a pint costing 7euros, or in the few bars that offered 'seasonairre prices' 4euros, our 'wages' did not stretch far!

A little video I made of my time in the mountains

Earnings were quickly spent in the age old chalet hosts tradition of consuming as much alcohol as one could, and in my case on doctors bills to treat a dislocated shoulder and a 'put out' back on two occasions, so as ever it fell to the 'chalet wine' to provide the merriment. Ahhh yes chalet wine, how I have missed you!

Extra earnings could be acquired in the form of tips from the guests. It was at this that I excelled despite being barely able to talk after contracting glandular fever in the first week of the season, which lasted right through until April! I did this predominantly by consistently serving the best food my guests said they had had during any of their previous ski trips. A compliment, but not as big a one as you may think judging by the 'talent' of some of my associates.

Chalet Seraphine
Upon joining the company I worked for, myself and the other 30 or so hosts embarked on 3 weeks of training in resort before the season kicked off. We would learn to cook a menu consisting of three courses each night for 6 days, and veggie options to go with it, along with how to clean our chalets and fold towels. Gripping stuff. It became apparent early on that I was one of the better, if not best cook out of the hosts. It baffled me that some of my colleagues could barely boil an egg, let alone fry or poach one! One female host, fresh from completing her A-Levels at an oh so very posh school asked when we were discussing cheese... 'is that where the cheese comes from, Arge?' We looked at each other perplexed and asked her to explain what she meant, she said 'Well you keep going on about the cheese for the cheese boards, saying they are from Arge, why are they all from the same place?' In case you are unaware, the French word for cheese is Fromage, and in no way what soever means they come from a place called Arge!


Anyway, I felt immediately at ease whipping up the same menu week in week out and had the tips to show for it each Sunday night in my local, the Morris Bar. I quickly tired of the menu and set about changing it slightly to both entertain myself and create better dishes for the guests. A classic was guests not liking the sound of the “Lamb and Apricot Stew” which was the main course on Thursdays. I could usually direct the guests with some subtle language skills and my powers of suggestion, to have them ask me if they could have something else, thereby sticking to company policy of not offering alternate dishes. Of course my answer was yes and a nice lamb curry was usually the preferred option, doing away with the salad starter and replacing with onion bharji' and Pakoras! Quite delightful if I do say so myself. My chalet manager became firstly suspicious and then annoyed as to why at half way through the season, in 7 out of 9 weeks my guests asked for curry instead of the usual dishes, to which I had no answer other than 'that's what they asked for boss'.

The following winter my next cooking job arrived, I got a job on a 44m motor yacht that was to be berthed in Imperia, Italy, for the winter, where I would cook for the 5 crew and help with some deck work in the afternoons. This job came with a job as the crew chef on the owners new 60m motor-yacht that was due to launch some months later in May. I enjoyed the time in Italy and trying new things out on the crew who were mostly appreciative of my efforts... there is however always one!

The yacht moored in Imperia

As the winter came and went it was time for me to join the new yacht in Cherbourg, France, where she had been built. My job was to cook lunch and dinner for 14 crew and a vegetarian ;-) everyday, and help the main chef, Geoff, prepare for the guests meals.

All in all it was a very interesting experience, one I will likely do again. I learned a lot from Geoff in regards to cooking techniques and increased my knowledge in certain areas a lot. Crucially I also learnt a few tips specific to catering on a yacht for demanding guests, that will come in handy if find myself back on the seas. The experience also highlighted the areas I fell short in and is a major part of why I am attending this course at Tante Marie. Geoff had such a wide variety of dishes in his head that came with many years of experience, and it amazed me on a number of occasions as too what he would come up with. My organisation and tidyness in the galley also improved substantially as would stop me routinely stop me working until I had organised my area better.

The new office in Cannes, France

So having had many jobs and always seemingly somehow ending up back in a kitchen, it seems silly to fight what my mind wants to do. It may have taken longer than most to get there, but finally I feel I am ready to get stuck into a career, and that career will be behind the pots and pans. Where those pots and pans are to be located, is however yet to be seen....

Tomorrow is the first day of class, I have packed my bag like a good boy, laid my clothes out and even chosen which watch I will wear. All that stands between me and my first day is a slippery 15min walk up a slight incline to the start of my new career...

Somewhere in the Med...

So I will see you back here soon, where you will be greeted by less of this meandering filler and more of posts on the subject matter this blog was designed to cover.



  1. Dylan, cooking is not your only talent clearly! Very enjoyable read, though kinda worried by your deterioration into slaphead...... :))

  2. Cheers Brightlight!

    My deterioration into slapheadedness for your information, is in fact genetic and not by choice!


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